Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Bathurst Mother Asks Federal and Provincial Governments to Implement Recommendations from Coroners Inquest: Ban 15 passenger vans, use pro drivers

Three years ago on January 12, 2008, my son Daniel and seven others were killed in a tragic passenger van collision just outside of Bathurst, New Brunswick. Known as the Boys in Red, their deaths have come to symbolize the failure of the student transportation system in New Brunswick and across Canada.

As a mother, I will always mourn the death of my son Daniel and his fellow Bathurst High School Phantoms basketball team members whose lives were taken three years ago today. They paid the price for the system’s failure and as the May 2009 Coroners Inquest into the death of our sons revealed, so many people with the power and authority to change the course of events that night failed to do their duty and seven dead children were the result.

As mothers we have overcome many obstacles – personal and emotional - in the last three years to bring awareness to the issues of student transportation safety so that our sons deaths were not in vain. Before this happened, I was just an ordinary person. I had never spoken to the media in my life and I didn’t concern myself with politics. I was a just a mother. So it is not easy for me to speak out in the media but I do it because I know I have to, not only for my son Daniel but for all students in the future so that they may be safe. And I know that if Daniel was alive, he would support what I am doing. I also know that if my son had not been in a 15 passenger van that night three years ago, if he had been in a Multi Function Activity Bus (MFAB) driven by a professional Class 2 Yellow School Bus driver, we would be talking about something very different today because he and six young boys would be alive.

On Monday, we were advised by the NB Minister of Education, Jody Carr, that a stakeholders' committee on student transportation will be struck in New Brunswick. While I am pleased to know that the province has made this commitment, it means nothing if students are still driven to extra-curricular events by volunteers who are not qualified to handle these large Multi Function Activity Buses. We do not ask volunteers to drive Yellow School Buses and we should not be asking them to drive MFABs.

So today, on the third anniversary of their deaths, I am sending out this message to the Premier of New Brunswick, David Alward, the Minister of Education Jody Carr, the Minister of Transportation, Claude Williams and the Minster of Public Safety, Robert Trevors, imploring them to implement recommendation #6 from the Coroners Inquest into the death of our sons.

Recommendation #6: Nothing less than qualified, class 2 yellow school bus driver(s) with endorsements B (valid for school buses) and E (valid for air brakes) for all student travel to off-site extra-curricular events. Teachers, coaches and parents, as well as volunteers should not be driving to children to off-site extra-curricular events.

I am also asking Chuck Strahl, the Federal Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, to implement recommendation #8 from the Coroners Inquest:

Recommendation #8: Fifteen passenger and seven passenger vans banned for student travel across Canada. Only yellow school buses and multi function activity buses (MFABs) should be used.

We are expecting Minister Strahl to soon release the results of 15 passenger van safety review that was promised in June by his predecessor, John Baird, and to which Minister Strahl committed to examining a national consensus on student transportation safety in September, 2010 in Halifax at the Council of Ministers meeting.

I believe that with the release of this report, Transport Canada will come to no other conclusion but that 15 passenger vans must be banned for transporting students and children in every province across Canada.

Finally, I want to make it clear that I will never give up lobbying for safe student transportation and I will not go away until the last recommendation from the Coroners Inquest into the death of our sons are implemented. I owe it to my son Daniel and all the other Boys in Red to keep up the fight until 15 passenger vans are banned for student use across Canada and nothing less than qualified, Class 2 licensed Yellow School Bus Drivers are behind the wheels of Multi-Function Activity Buses.